NEW YORK (CNS) — Despite its lofty title, the muddled sci-fi drama “Transcendence” (Warner Bros.) sinks rather than rises.
Among the burdens weighing it down are a host of misguided notions — either embedded in the action or expressed in the dialogue — that might be menacing to the impressionable if they were any more coherent.
Consider the premise on which the whole film rests: Fatally wounded in an assassination bid by a band of Luddite extremists called RIFT (Revolutionary Independence From Technology), Will Caster (Johnny Depp), the world’s leading expert on artificial intelligence, manages to upload his entire consciousness to a super-computer before dying.
Will is aided in this project by his devoted wife and respected colleague, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), as well as by his best friend, Max Waters (Paul Bettany), another esteemed tech guru.
Max begins to have his doubts about the wisdom of what they’ve done soon after the transfer is complete. But Evelyn is a true believer, grateful that Will survives, if only through his voice and as an image on the screen.
The next step is for cyber-Will to go online and acquire all the factual knowledge available throughout the Internet. His head thus swelled, however — physically deceased but intellectually flourishing — Will begins to veer between benevolence and megalomania.
Since Will’s murder was part of a larger conspiracy that claimed several other victims, the FBI is on the case in the person of Agent Buchanan (Cillian Murphy). Buchanan teams with another of Will’s pals, outstanding researcher Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), to hunt RIFT and its leader, disenchanted lab assistant Bree (Kate Mara).
Once the threat to society’s future posed by Will’s outsized ambition becomes apparent, though, Buchanan and Tagger begin to wonder whom they should really be trying to stop.
Philosophical confusion reigns in director Wally Pfister’s meandering movie, beginning with the implicit idea that all human mental functions are purely physical and ending with virtual reality somehow permeating the world of nature. And there’s a dollop of irreverently expressed disbelief in the divine to go along with all the other off-kilter concepts.
Early on, an as-yet-unfelled Will is seen giving a lecture to a generally rapt audience. But question time finds him challenged by a RIFT type who’s also obviously meant to come across as some kind of religious fanatic. When the latter asks if he isn’t trying to create his own God by imparting self-awareness to computers, Will answers smugly: “Isn’t that what man has always done?”
Still, mature viewers are likely to be too bored by the slack proceedings to be much misled by the fast-and-loose — or downright nutty — concepts underlying them.
The film contains complex themes, including atheism, some violence and gore, a brief nongraphic marital bedroom scene as well as a couple of uses of profanity and of crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
PREVIOUS: Books present correlations between St. Francis and his papal namesake
NEXT: Poetry collection shows beauty, fragmentation of everyday life
Share this story